Amid reports that reconciliation talks between the diocese of New Westminster and eight conservative parishes had reached an impasse, cracks have appeared in the parishes’ coalition between those who would like to continue dialogue and those who seem ready to accept an offer of an alternative bishop.
The eight parishes, which call themselves the Anglican Communion in New Westminster (ACiNW), walked out of the diocesan synod last June after a vote approving same-sex blessings was passed. Parish representatives had been meeting with Bishop Michael Ingham and diocesan members since December in an attempt at reconciliation, which was recommended by the house of bishops last October. The two sides had met three times and mostly discussed process.
Events heated up when a diocesan news release, issued Feb. 12, said reconciliation talks had stalled and that the eight parishes wished to pursue separation.
“At this moment we have no plans to meet again,” wrote Bishop Michael Ingham, adding that the diocesan side thought “a terminus had been reached.”
Two days later, the ACiNW issued its own release, countering the diocese’s version of events. It said the eight parishes had asked for time to assess their options.
“The facilitator, Gordon Sloan, issued a memo on the morning of February 12, 2003, saying the ACiNW needed a few more days to decide,” the release said. “But that afternoon, an article was received by the media, and posted on the diocesan website falsely alleging that the ACiNW wanted to talk only about separation.”
The bishop had said in an interview that the door was still open. “We’ll stay at the table and talk to anyone who wants to talk with us. We’ve asked Mr. Sloan to continue to go back and forth to see what’s possible.”
Two ACiNW leaders, Rev. Ed Hird and Rev. Paul Carter, recently sent out e-mail messages outlining their continued efforts to find a new bishop with full episcopal authority from conservative groups within Canada or the United States. Mr. Carter told the Vancouver Sun last month that a new bishop – non-Canadian – was “very close at hand.”
The group has stated that they would prefer a Canadian bishop, but church protocol would almost certainly prevent it. Bishop Terence Buckle of the Yukon has twice offered to act as an alternative bishop to the ACiNW so that they could remain with the Canadian church.
“I offered that then and I still believe it could work as a temporary solution to hold things together, to enable time to pass so that the Canadian church can come to some resolution on the matter.”
Meanwhile, the future of the reconciliation remains unclear.
Mr.Carter, executive director of ACiNW, said on Feb. 12, “We’re very clear the simple reconciliation the bishop has been talking about is not enough for us.” He said that the ACiNW had fulfilled the request of the house of bishops to try reconciliation.
Bishop Ingham said, “Over and over again we have emphasized that we are not asking them to do anything they don’t want to do (participating in same-sex blessings). They have taken the position that you cannot be in fellowship with anyone who is sinful.”
But one parish sounded less willing to abandon the reconciliation process. Rev. Felix Orji, associate priest at St. John’s, Shaughnessy, acknowledged there was some difference of opinion within the ACiNW itself.
“I am not going to leave the Anglican Church of Canada, St. John’s is not going to leave and most of the ACiNW parishes will not leave, no matter what happens,” said Mr. Orji, who is also a member of the faith, worship and ministry committee task group charged with presenting the same-sex issue to General Synod in 2004.
The best course, said Mr. Orji, would be for everyone, including Bishop Ingham, to wait for General Synod.
“If he doesn’t hold off (same sex blessings) there will be chaos,” said Mr. Orji. “People are angry on both sides.” Mr. Orji said he thought the ACiNW could accept whatever General Synod decided on same-sex blessings, and hoped that synod would also allow alternative episcopal oversight if it allowed same-sex blessings.
Days before the breakdown was announced, a so-called “flying bishop” visited the diocese on what he called a fact-finding mission from the breakaway group Anglican Mission in America.
In an interview, Bishop Chuck Murphy of Pawley Island, S.C., said he was in Vancouver as a keynote speaker at an ecumenical celebration of orthodoxy, and to talk to his mentor, Rev. J.I. Packer, a noted conservative theologian who lives in the area.